Title: The Hundred DressesThe_Hundred_Dresses
Author: Eleanor Estes
Illustrator: Louis Slobodkin
Pages: 79
Reading Level: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

Newbery Medalist.

The Story.

It was Peggy who started the game. And, now, Maddie wishes she hadn’t. At first it was fun – Wanda’s claim was so ridiculous – but now it just seems as though they’re torturing Wanda for no good reason. Now, Maddie is beginning to feel sorry for Wanda. But she can’t help but wonder – why does Wanda so forthrightly assert that she has a hundred dresses at home? Surely she knows that we all know how poor her family is? And if she wanted to conflate her importance, why didn’t she pick a realistic number?

But while Maddie reconsiders their relationship with Wanda, Peggy continues to plow ahead, teasing Wanda mercilessly about her hundred dresses.

Will Peggy and Maddie realize their cruelty before they ruin their chance of a friendship with Wanda forever?

Discussion.

As I began this story, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I just knew that The Hundred Dresses would have a psychological conclusion with which I disagreed. I knew that Maddie and Peggy would be rightly condemned for their cruelty, but on the basis that if Wanda wanted to believe that she had one hundred dresses in her closet, they had no right to dissuade her from that belief. I just knew that there would be an everybody-can-create-their-own-reality-and-how-dare-you-crush-the-delicate-psychology-of-an-imaginative-girl message. Imagine my relief when this did not happen. Imagine my relief when Wanda’s claims turned out to be true (though not in the sense that Maddie and Peggy understood her to be making them) and both Maddie and Peggy realized how cruel they had been.

It is rare, in a modern novel, to find moral growth in a protagonist. Usually the main character grows from being less independent to more independent, less confident to more confident, less assertive to more assertive. When was the last time that you read a story in which the main lesson learned by the protagonist was the importance of kindness? (Not love. Kindness.) I’ll bet it wasn’t recently. (By the way, my question is rhetorical, but if you have recently read such a book, please let me know. I’d love to read it.) But in The Hundred Dresses, Maddie and Peggy realize their failures and seek to make restitution for them by offering their friendship to Wanda. It was so… refreshing.

Cautions.

Most of the story takes place at school – one of the students draws a picture of Santa Claus and the class decorates a Christmas tree.

‘Gee’ is used once.

Conclusion. A good story that presents positive moral growth on the part of the protagonist.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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